Thursday, October 31, 2013

What's in your hope chest?

So what does it mean to live a life centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ? The answer Matt gives in Chapter 9 is quite simple: it means to passionately pursue Him. Sound great, but what does that mean? Matt gleans 3 important ideas. The first is discipleship. And not just discipling others, but being discipled too. I think that latter part is one that too many miss out on. The second is remembering our citizenship. How do we define ourselves? Is it by what we do, or what Christ has done for us? I think we know the correct choice. The third is by our anticipation of heaven. Not that heaven itself  is our goal. Our goal should be to be with God. I think of it in the marriage metaphor. When we marry someone, our goal is to be with them, for better or worse. Should they happen to live in a mansion, great. But if our goal is to live in the mansion, and we marry someone to achieve that goal, I doubt that the marriage relationship will be a good one or one that will last. Remember the parable? Where those who were not wearing the wedding clothes were cast out? If He will cast out the guests who were there only for their own enjoyment, what will he do to a bride that does not truly love Him?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can't quite wrap my head around it sometimes

Chapter 7 speaks about never being satisfied. Another oxymoron, for if Christ has accomplished everything for us, shouldn't we be completely satisfied? And yet there is a healthiness in knowing that we still have a ways to go. Uhhhh!

Yet we see this throughout the Bible. Resting in Christ, yet striving to please Him. Knowing that our works cannot please Him, yet counting our suffering for the sake a Christ a joy. It sounds like craziness sometimes.

Weakness. I have plenty. Yet when I am weak, when I confess my need for more of God in my life, then I am made strong. Not in my own self, but my strength comes from the God who sustains me.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3: 12)

There, Paul has put it into words.  I am not perfect, but I strive to make myself better because Christ has made me his own. Get it? Not because it pleases him, or because he will love me more because of it, but because of what has already been done. My striving is not to gain a future reward, but to honor a past event. Just like celebrating President's Day doesn't make our presidents better, nor does it promise us more freedom, it simply honors those who have served in the office. And choosing not to celebrate does not lessen their deeds either.

A few quotable lines from chapter 7 to wrap up:

"Works are not grace, but works are not incompatible with grace."


"In the end, while some of the high-minded want to pit grace against striving , and while we are not saved by our striving and in fact are saved from our striving, we are also saved to our striving— a striving after Christ."

Monday, October 28, 2013


Matt begins Chapter 6 by talking about his daughters. He speaks of a time when putting one of them to bed, he asked her, "Do you know why daddy loves you?" She couldn't find an answer, so he told her, "I love you because you are mine. God gave you to me." Then he brings it home. Isn’t it nice when someone’s love for you is not contingent upon what you do? Such is the love of God.

I think this is one of my favorite chapters in the book. Matt has a way of relating things that are just plain and simple. He goes on to talk about why, after knowing we are saved, we shouldn't take that for granted. God's love for us is great, but God Himself is great, and as such, we should desperately want to pursue Him. We should place all of our confidence in Him, because He does care for us.

It is a paradox that many struggle with, the idea of what it means to be a follower of Christ. The idea of our needing to prove our love is as ridiculous as my child needing to prove their love for me. And yet, there is an element of effort that is not only in Matt's book, but also in the book of Philippians, on which this book is based. How do we reconcile the two, grace and effort. I do it this way, I know that my effort does not in any way effect my grace. My successes cause Him to love me no greater, my failures no less. I just seek to embrace Him to the best of my ability. I just pursue Him because there is no greater one to pursue. I press on, because that is what those who have seen the glory of God do.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Passion for God

I think I over-think things sometimes, but then again, I often under-think things, so maybe it all balances out.

Here lately, I have been reading various sources on what it means to be saved, and having assurance of salvation. Where is that text in the Bible that just gives the simple, straight-forward answer? I have not found it yet. Where is the text that gives the straight-forward plan of salvation? Why does it have to look different? And what are the non-negotiables? Baptism? What kind? Must I say a certain prayer? Do I have to say a prayer? What about tithing and so on.

I don't know all the answers, and if you think you do, I might be a bit skeptical to be honest. This has been a long journey for me, and I haven't gotten there yet. But one thing I have come to believe is necessary is what Matt talks about in Chapter 5 of his book, and that is a passion for God. And that is going to look different for different folks. But I still have questions. Does that passion only come from the Holy Spirit? Can I build that passion, or is it a gift from God?

Matt asks a tough question in this chapter, one that I have struggled with too. "Is this desperation something that typifies the church today?" Is the church passionately pursuing God, or is it selfishly promoting itself? Can we bring people to church, but not bring them to Jesus? Sadly, I have known many churches to be a revolving door. More turn-over can be found there than the local donut shop.

I want more passion for God. And for me, the help to achieving that is found in being around others who are passionate. I need to find that. That is my prayer for today.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

It was just my imagination

In Chapter 4, Matt uses the phrase "imagination of the heart" to describe our human tendency to view things from our own perspective. Forget reality, this is how I view things and so it must be right. Somehow I recall a verse about how we should not walk by sight, or was that an old Petra song?

For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 2: 21)

Just because it is human tendency, doesn't make it right. I can relate to his idea of entitlement, although I think I am on the other side of that coin. I don't feel entitled to more, I think I have enough, more than enough. Yet when I look around to see what I can get rid of to make my life less encumbered by the things of this world, I have a hard time finding things I don't "need." I have a hard time letting go. I look around the basement and see tubs of stuff that I haven't used in some time, yet are not ready to throw away. I sometimes wish God would just make that decision for me and take them away.

Jesus did not have a hard time letting go. And he had so much more to let go of than I do. But he was willing to put my interests ahead of His own. That's what I want, a mind like Christ's mind. A passion to serve others rather than myself. I chase after it, yet it constantly eludes me.

But I will continue to chase it. For it is the pursuit that lets me know I am his. I won't let go.

Monday, October 21, 2013

It keeps going and going...

One thing about Paul and his letters, they are very gospel centered. And Matt reminds us of this as he starts Chapter 2, by quoting Philippians 1:27.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Paul would not be a very good ambassador of the Prosperity Gospel. He has had too many things go exceedingly wrong in his life to promote a health and wealth gospel. But that does not slow either him or the gospel down. Paul is in prison, and guards are converted. Others become aware of this, and they become bolder in the proclamation of the gospel. Even when some preach the gospel out of bad intent, Paul rejoices because he knows that the power is not in the one who preaches, but in the gospel itself.

In Paul, at least to this point, I see a spiritual maturity that is almost beyond belief. No matter what happens, his eyes are so gospel focused, that he cannot see any bad, but only find the good as God uses more and more circumstances (both good and bad) to fuel His purposes. This is an amazing about-face for a man who once thought he was doing God's will by persecuting the church.

So I return to Paul's statement in Philippians 1:27. What does it mean to live a life worthy of the gospel? Is Paul calling them to a life of works? Is he saying that we must exert great effort if we are to please God?
I don't believe so. I believe that he is calling us to consider what God has done and respond in kind. Not out of duty or obligation, but out of a heart that has been transformed.

The gospel is our Energizer bunny, it keeps us going and going. When things look bleak, the gospel lets us know that there is more to life than our situation. When things are great, the gospel reminds us that our lives are more than the things of this earth.

And I need to be reminded of that daily.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The beginnings

In the beginning of this book, Matt says that the Philippian church is different from many of the other churches that Paul has written to, in that there is less admonishment and more adoration. Paul longs to be with them. "He considers the Philippians not just sheep in his care but friends in his heart, and in this book he wears his heart on his sleeve." (Ch. 1) Matt then goes on to give a bit of the backstory, by visiting the conversion of three people in Philippi. Lydia, a young girl cured of a demon, and the Philippian Jailer. 

I like the connection here, although some would argue that it might be a stretch, their names are not mentioned in the letter. True, but I would tend to agree with Matt that I do not think these three conversions are given in Acts for no reason. If anything, they do shed light on the diversity that God often uses when putting something great together. Think of the diversity of the disciples for instance. In this case, we have a wealthy woman, a middle-class working guy, and a poor slave girl. Hard to get much more diverse than that.

It is a different picture than most churches in America. Here we tend to define church in so many ways, racially, worship style, doctrine, etc. I do believe that the Philippian church was different. Maybe Lydia had moved on, maybe the little girl was relieved of the demon, but never found Christ. Maybe the jailer found a different group to worship with, a more middle class type.

Or maybe not.

My next venture...

For my next venture, I recently finished reading Matt Chandler's "To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain." This is a book about the book of Philippians. Matt also previously did a 12 week video series on Philippians, and this book closely follows that study.

Rather than pull out random quotes, I hope to talk about Matt's thoughts that he pulls from Philippians.

I always like it when a preacher takes a section of the Bible, and makes it come alive, makes those practical connections to daily living. My hope is to look at some of those and take a deeper, more thoughtful look at them. One thing I discovered in going back over the last book, was that by looking more intentionally at some of what I had read, it helped me glean some deeper truths I had missed the first time through. Perhaps the same will happen here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wrapping it up.

The gospel is counterintuitive to our moral reasoning as sinners, not to reason itself. (Ch. 10)

I am going to wrap up the book with this quote from Chapter 10. It is an interesting thought, one that challenges us to be honest, something that I know that I have a hard time doing.

The gospel, the message of Jesus, that He came and stood in my place, is counterintuitive to who I am, because I would have a hard time standing in someone else's place, and to think that the God of heaven and earth did that for me is mind blowing. But there are also other things that go against my sinful mindset. Like the idea that, to quote Jesus on the cross, "It is finished." The atoning work is done, and I didn't do it, it didn't earn it, there is nothing left for me to do but to appreciate it.

And then there is reason. I still have a hard time seeing God doing this for me, but that is why He is worthy of my worship! But my reason tells me that there is no other way. There is no way that I can earn or deserve what God has done in the Gospel. There is no other way for me to get to heaven than to climb on His back and let Him take me there.

No matter how hard we want to believe that somehow we have earned a part of our salvation, true reason tells me otherwise. No man with a few pennies in his hand can put Bill Gates in his debt. I don't deserve what God has given me. But I can appreciate it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

You can't handle the truth!

Wouldn't it throw the whole industry of church marketing for a loop if our churches were truly defined by the cross? (Ch. 8)

Yesterday I spoke of how we tend to focus on words like "salvation," and sometimes this takes our eyes off of other words like "gospel" and 'power." I speak for myself, because this is something I am guilty of. But this quote takes it a step farther than just what I personally do.

Let me ask you, what drew you to your church? For many is it a program that met a personal need. While that is great, is that what we see in the Bible? Yes, there were times when Jesus healed someone, and that person's life was changed, and they followed Him. But there were also times when Jesus said hard things, and in doing so drove people away. Where does that fit in a church's marketing strategy?

So what if we threw out marketing strategies, and focused on living a gospel driven life? Could God handle it if instead of a kickin' band drawing in the younger crowd, we had some kickin' sermons that challenged people, were Bible centered (so we would have to talk about other subjects besides sex), and both lifted us up and cut our hearts? Yes, I think God could handle it, but could we?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

You have to look a little to the left...

Once we realize that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, our action becomes a "reasonable service." However, if our service is front and center, the church may easily (wittingly or unwittingly) proclaim itself as the Messiah. (Ch. 7)

Now on the surface, this sounds obvious. We have heard verses about this and probably even heard such language in sermons. But have we stopped to think about the implications?

I can only speak for myself, but I think that I have had a tendency to focus on the word "salvation" when I hear such statements. My salvation is in the gospel, and the gospel is the good news about Jesus, and I want salvation so I confess and say I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. From there, it becomes a matter of saying and doing more right things, like going to church, not cursing, grace before meals, and maybe even an appropriate "Amen!" now and then.

But what if instead of focusing on the word "salvation," I focus on the words "gospel" and "power." Now instead of wanting salvation for myself, I find myself just being in awe at what the gospel has done. I now see that I cannot just give some lip service to such a thing, thinking that by doing that I am saved. It is not my confession in the gospel that saves me, it is the gospel itself that is the power of salvation. So now I see that next to the gospel, my good actions are but filthy rags.

So here is the paradox. If I focus on my salvation, I do the good things because I want to be saved. But in doing so, I dishonor the gospel, become my own savior, and since I have not lived a perfect life, I end up damning myself to hell. Or, I can focus on the gospel, be in awe of the beauty of a Savior who would do such a thing for me, and my life is changed, maybe to look just like the life of the one who seeks to be their own savior. Only I am not doing it to achieve salvation, I am doing it because of my love for the one who offers salvation to me.

That is a Gospel Driven Life.


For fun, but also application, have you taken the awareness test yet?

If you have taken the test for the first time, chances are, you did not see the bear at first. It is because your mind was focused elsewhere. Just like we sometimes focus so hard on salvation, that we miss the gospel. Salvation is a by-product of the Gospel Driven Life. But having the Gospel Driven Life is not always a by-product of chasing after salvation.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Peter, have you misplaced the keys to the kingdom again?

Seeking to be relevant, the church too can become a shopping mall of false promises that yields despair or self-righteousness, rather than faith and the fruit of the Spirit. (Ch. 6)

I will say that what I see going on in churches is my biggest struggle right now. Having attended one church for 8 years, but then getting involved with leadership and seeing what the actions and attitudes were behind closed doors was a struggle. A serious struggle. A minister embezzling funds, poor treatment of people who just want to serve, blind eyes turned to serious issues, and an attitude that said, "God put us in charge, you need to deal with it." A culminating moment for me at this place was a weekend leadership retreat. Upon realizing that very little time had actually been spent in prayer, the lead minister stated, "That's okay, because we are doing God's work." Yikes!

Our next experience was even worse. We had dared to question something the minister had said during our small group discussion, and were called before the eldership. No one was allowed to speak on our behalf, it was a closed meeting. Even the minister himself was not at the meeting. Lots of lies and accusations, but nothing can be challenged if those who made the accusations are not present. Nor was anyone else at the meeting allowed to attend. But they had t-shirts that said "Be the church." And folks were encouraged to wear them as they did a once a year service project for the community.

So now we sit in relative silence, worshiping in a church that is so large, I doubt they would notice if we disappeared. Participating in a Sunday School class with a group of good people, but feeling like we are on the outside looking in. That statement in the above quote, "false promises that yields despair," I can relate to that. So desperately hungering for a gospel-centeredness that seems to be unreachable.

I won't give up on Jesus, I won't give up on church, but it is a struggle right now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I don't "carrot" all for your attitude.

The promise was grounded in the fact that God chose Abram, not that Abram chose God. God cannot change his electing purpose and in any case he knew all along that he was electing scoundrels. That is why it is called grace. (Ch. 6)

I have to admit, I am finding it harder and harder to understand the theology that says that we can do anything that would bring us to God before He draws us to Himself.

What I see in this kind of grace is an amazing God. One who reaches out and grabs a sinner like me and rescues him from certain death. Imagine being in a life or death situation, and someone comes to you. You may or may not have called out for help, it does not matter, because why would anyone want to risk all they have and are to save another? But someone does risk it all. Maybe you are rescued at the cost of their life. It was their choice. You can be grateful, you can give to help cover their burial expenses, their families care, etc., but it does not change what has transpired. Someone chose to save you. It was a gift and nothing you can do will ever repay it. Grace.

It is the Good News that yields good works. Salvation is not the prize for our obedience but the source. (Ch. 6)

You have been saved, and it had nothing to do with your works. It is a done deal. Does that affect you? Does it change how you live your life? Does it alter how you feel about the one who saved you? It should. But it does not have to. You could spit on their grave, or never think of them again and it would not change the fact that they rescued you. The salvation is already yours. But then I question, by rescuing you, did they really save you, or have they just prolonged your miserable life?

We have be saved by grace, which means that salvation is not the prize for a life well lived, but the source of a well lived life. Realizing our salvation is what produces genuine fruit. It provides peace, patience, joy, kindness, gentleness, and more, because those who are rescued have been redeemed from death.

So, why is it that this is not what we hear preached in the church today? Is this not the good news? How is all the talk of striving to be a better person, and the laying out of unattainable goals "good news?"

Restore unto me the joy of my salvation, and renew a right Spirit within me!

What faith does for us...

Faith does not create, it receives. (Chapter 6)

A very simple statement, yet one with powerful implications. Let's look at the first part, that faith does not create. It is not my faith that determines if God exists, just like it is not my lack of faith that could make Him not exist. Whether or not God exists (or the flying spaghetti monster for that matter) is not created by my faith. Neither does my faith create other things. My faith does not create my salvation. According to the Bible, salvation is a gift from God.

Faith receives. I do not create God through faith, I receive Him through faith. Faith is the act that allows me to know Him, to experience Him, to have a glimpse at understanding Him. It is through faith that one receives salvation. It is not our actions that create our salvation. Yet to receive faith and salvation alters our actions. I believe this is why Jesus said that many “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" (Matthew 7:21-23)

There are those who believe that their actions will create a reality of salvation for them. There are those who believe that if they do something, God owes them something in return. I believe they will face a very sad reality some day.

The words of this song come to mind. Hope it hits home for you like it does for me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What kind of faith do I have?

Saving faith is very specific: clinging to God’s saving mercy in Jesus Christ as he is given to us in the gospel.

It is on account of Christ that we are justified, through faith, and not on account of our faith itself.
(Both from Chapter 5)

I am currently reading another book, titled. "Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart." The premise is that we can know that we are saved, and that this knowledge is a strong basis for making our walk in Christ being stronger. (As opposed to constantly questioning our faith, and always trying to put forth a greater effort.) The author of this book equates belief with repentance, as if they are 2 sides of the same coin, like we can't have one without the other (try as we might).

I am so reminded of this as when I read this quotes. Salvation is not found in my perfection, but in Christ's perfection. He died so that I might be forgiven. And not forgiven again and again, but forgiven once and for all. This is what generates the heart that loves him. While it is faith that saves me, I am not granted salvation for my faith, but through my faith. I believe there is a difference.

If I believe that I have a need to be forgiven each time I sin, then I think I might be more likely to abuse that kind of "grace." Conversely, I also think that kind of grace also puts me more on edge, more likely to think that if I fail, I might have done so enough to "fall from grace."

Also,concerning faith, if it is my faith that saves me, I might tend to take pride in that fact. But if it is through faith that I am saved, not from myself so that I have nothing to boast of, then my tendency is to rejoice in that which was granted me, and respond not through my efforts, (Eph 2:8-10) but because of what Christ has done for me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Agree or Disagree?

Salvation is not a program for us to follow; it is a gift to be received. That is the simplest and most difficult truth of the Christian faith.

So do you agree or disagree? 

I would have to say that I agree. Not that we don't want to make it into a program. We want things simple and organized. It's just that I don't see it that way in the Scriptures. I don't see  Paul intentionally writing Romans so that we could take a road trip. You have a thief on a cross, soldiers, citizens, and all kinds of inbetweeners achieving salvation, and it looks different each time. 

Did we not have a program with the law? That did not work out well for us, so why would we think that Jesus came just to replace one program with another? 

But this does make our minds stretch. Maybe even sometimes to the point of snapping. Like the Pharisees had their minds stretched every time they heard Jesus speak.  

Jesus said his yoke was easy, and his burden was light. That is because he carries the bulk of the burden. And he is strong enough to do so. That is where faith comes in.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fool me once...

That is why we will always fall for golden calves, signs and wonders, awe-inspiring religious productions, and sanctification plans that promise measurable progress.
(From Chapter 5)

We like chasing things. We are so easily led astray. Moses went up on the mountain to be with God. It took a bit longer than some would have liked, even through no time promises were made. We have a hard time walking by faith, when sight is so much more reliable. 

Isn't it nice to grow? Isn't that what God wants of us, growth in our Christianity and growth in our walk with him? Dying plants produce no fruit! 

But God desires that we walk by faith. When Jesus told Peter to get behind him, it was because he was thinking as man thinks. He was walking by sight. No, it does not seem right to me that my Savior should suffer.

I think of a student who was involved in a fight because of something someone had said about his mother. His mother came in, looked him in the eyes, and told him, "I can take care of myself, I am a grown adult. Nothing anyone says is going to hurt me. You don't have to defend me." 

Walking by faith can be tough. Sometimes, that desire to see more growth, when that growth really isn't there yet, is a tough pill to swallow. But I don't trust in my strength, I trust in Christ. I don't need false assurances, but rather to rest in His promises. I need to wait on the Lord, even if He is traveling at a pace a little slower than I might like. He knows what I can handle better than even me.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Let's nail this one down

Salvation is not a program for us to follow; it is a gift to be received. That is the simplest and most difficult truth of the Christian faith. (Chapter 5)

Why is it that we try to put everything into some kind of formula? 5 steps, 4 laws, 7 rules, etc. Answer: Because that is how we make it manageable. That is how we keep control.

But can God's plans ever be controlled by man? Why is it that there is not one conversion in the Bible where we can see a plain pattern? Why do that have to have such varying elements? Why can't we have one instance where Paul hands someone a tract, they say the sinner's prayer, and get saved. Or they travel the Roman's path, get baptized, and walk in some kind of amazing glory after that? Maybe it is because that is not the reality of salvation. Maybe because salvation is different for different folks.

I watch Calvinists say Armenians are not saved, and Armenians say that Calvinism is of the devil. What if God is big enough to save some of both? (But maybe not for those who espouse such hate.)

Friday, October 4, 2013

God pursues me...

God does not simply create the gift and offer it to us, if we will only climb the stairway to heaven to get it; he brings it down to us, uncurls our ungrateful fingers, and places it in our hands. (Chapter 5)

Now that is a God that I can worship, that I must worship. Not a God who begs me for my love, but a God who loves me, pursues me, a God who possesses me, who has made me a heir. A Father who loves the child in spite of their stubbornness and rebellion.

John MacArthur says it very clearly...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bet you didn't see that coming!

Natural religion, spirituality, and morality are in fact our chief means of running away from God. (Chapter 2)

For some reason I went back into the archives of my blog and read the letter the pastor sent to us after we had met with him.

Yes, many of my comments were sarcastic and harsh. But my writing was my venting. It's cheaper than a gun and doesn't get you in as much trouble. (There goes that sarcasm again!)

As I read that, and then this quote, a feeling of sadness comes upon me. It serves to validate this quote to me. It is that whole idea of working our way toward God rather than letting God come to us. But how can we come to God, when all our best works are but filthy rags? How do we dare approach him? Is not Isaiah's attitude better, knowing that we are people of unclean lips? Shouldn't we instead fall down at our knees and be afraid?

As I read the words of that letter, and as it caused me to think about that later meeting with the elders, it breaks my heart. Surely this is not what Jesus had in mind for his church. I think of the verse where we are told that the path to heaven is narrow, and few find it. But how few is few? Perhaps that few is a bit smaller than we might be comfortable with. Perhaps that few does not have as many American Christians on it as we would like to imagine. But all I get out of this for right now is that I need to watch where I am stepping, I need to make sure that my feet are on the right path.

It's okay to vent, but I pray for these people. And for the souls of those they lead. God help us all.